Good communication is an essential skill that can lead to satisfying connections and understanding if done correctly. Unfortunately, when it is not done right, communication issues can lead to misunderstandings, rifts, and eventually even break-ups if not dealt with soon enough or properly. In my practice in which I work with adult individuals and also do couples counseling, I frequently have clients with communication problems in their personal and/or professional lives which are causing them frustration and upset. On the surface, good communication seems like it should be pretty easy. In actuality, it involves many steps and is quite complex, which is why it is hard to do in a healthy, effective manner.
To help you have better communication with those in your personal and professional life, you first need to have good communication with yourself. This entails two “pre-steps” before you communicate with others:
- First, you have to recognize and identify your feelings (it can’t be simply that you feel “upset,” for instance, but to figure out specifically what exact feeling/s you are having, such as anger, hurt, sadness, disappointment, etc.). I have seen all too often how hard this is for clients (and people) to do; either they have a jumble of feelings together that are hard to separate out or their mind goes blank and no feeling is accessible.
- Then, you need to recognize and identify the thought/s you are having about your feeling/s (such as that you feel sad and are thinking it is because you didn’t get a promotion at work that you felt you had earned).
After you’ve determined what you are feeling and thinking, then you are able to better express yourself to the intended person. Here are what I have found to be the effective skill-building steps that I help my clients learn and strengthen towards more solid, healthy communication:
1) Be direct and specific to avoid vagueness, mixed messages, and assumptions, all of which can cause many problems and misunderstandings.
2) Use “I” statements to help the listener avoid getting defensive or closed off. Examples include “I think it would be a good idea for us to have date night once a week” or “I feel unimportant when the team doesn’t ask me for my input on a work project.”
3) Sandwich the “hard part” of your message between two positive and genuine pieces to help the listener hear the message without getting reactionary. For instance, you could say, “I really care about you and I know you are trying very hard to lose some weight. However, your eating carbs late at night is preventing you from losing as much weight as you say you want to lose. I want you to keep succeeding in losing weight so maybe you can switch it up to eating fruit or vegetables before you go to sleep instead.”
4) Being a good communicator also means being able to be a good listener. This can include not interrupting, staying present so you truly hear what the other person is expressing to you, and not getting distracted in thinking about what your response is going to be rather than listening.
5) Reflect back what you think has been said to verify that you’ve heard things correctly and ask the other person to reflect back to you what he/she thinks you’ve said. Correct any important parts that were left out or said wrong.
Hopefully, these steps I’ve suggested will help. As I noted earlier, good communication is not easy. Many things can block a person from being able to do any or all of these steps including low self-esteem or lack of confidence, being unaware of or unable to identify one’s feelings and/or thoughts, fear of how the other person will respond, etc.
But, change is possible. Give me a call if you feel I could help you unblock and improve your communication skills. I offer a free phone consultation for about fifteen minutes to see if I’d be the right psychologist for you to work with.